I can't believe it is May already, and nearly half of 2021 has already passed. How often have you recently referred to the incredible speed with which the days just seem to fly by?
I bet it was pretty often - lately, it seems that every other conversation I have brings it up one way or another. Thinking back over the years, days seemed so much longer when I was a child and even a young adult.
Science has a few theories on that, for example, that the number of new experiences influences time perception. Children make new experiences every day, encountering situations that are new and exciting. As we get older, routine replaces excitement and childlike wonder, and we barely pay attention to what is happening. If we pause and reflect on our day before falling asleep, the day would feel as if it contained less time - because we collected hardly any new experiences that stand out in our memory.
In light of this, maybe it is not surprising that many people feel the past year has gone in a blur. The restrictions of the pandemic have reduced our movements, our interactions with others and the opportunities for spontaneous adventures. However, I feel that there is more to it than just how many new experiences we make each day.
Time, and our perception of it, are closely linked to our rhythm: nothing can happen without rhythm. It is how energy expresses itself in time. The most obvious may be our heartbeat, our pulse. But many rhythms are spanning varying timescales: the rhythm of the breath, the circadian rhythm, the monthly female rhythm, the rhythms that we establish in our daily routines and work etc. Rhythm is timing – it is not just repetitive regularity, but rather how variance and regularity interplay.
If you understand rhythm, you know how to make the right decision at any time because you can anticipate how things will come together - you see the rhythmic pattern hidden within life. An intimacy with rhythm enables you to balance the flow of energy within you, your pranic system. You will be aware of your heart rate and what affects it, such as fear or joy. A rush of adrenaline makes you operate in a different rhythm – your heart may race, for example. When you perceive this, when you feel how your emotions alter your rhythm, you can use pitch and rhythm cooperatively, and a deliberately set rhythm will have an emotional effect.
In the West, the basis of musical tempo is the measure called "a bar", with each bar containing several beats: for example, three in a bar is counted '1–2–3 | 1–2–3|'.
Ancient India's approach to rhythm is different in that it has a gravitational pull towards the conclusion of the pattern, where it returns to the beginning. A rhythmic template may be more or less complex and stretch over a short or long duration, but it always concludes on the first beat, which is left ringing with potential and yet finality.
The Indian rhythmic system is called 'Taal', and each established pattern is also referred to as a Taal. There are many, many Taals. They may include odd and even combinations such as '1–2, 1–2–3'. When this pattern is repeated to give ten beats, it is called 'Jhap Taal': '1–2, 1–2–3; 1–2, 1–2–3 | 1'. The first of the ten beats is known as the 'Sum'; it is the main focus and stress point and the moment of conclusion. Then there is a minor release, a short space, at the mid-point of the pattern (the sixth beat). The rhythm does not just set the tempo of a Raag; it makes it live and breathe and is the heartbeat of a composition.
What does this mean for us on a practical level, though? Our rhythm is influenced, and often subsumed, by the rhythm of our social environment - the pace at work, the rhythm of life within the family etc. Society at large has its own rhythm as well, and it has changed over the centuries. Before industrialisation, the flow of life was tuned to the natural rhythm of the seasons. Now, electricity allows us to be active at any time of day or night, and the seasons have minimal impact on our day to day life. Technology and the demands of the workplace have taken over instead. As a result, modern life is largely disconnected from the rhythmic patterns of nature, and so are we - life is like a runaway train that hurtles towards the future, on tracks made of time, and the further it forges ahead, the faster it gets.
I find these parallels fascinating. The perspective of life as a linear journey from birth towards death seems to express itself in the composition of music with a linear rhythmic structure. By comparison, the rhythmic patterns in Naad Yoga are circular, and the rhythmic structure of a Raag could be pictured as a spiral or a series of interlocking circles rather than a straight line. There is something natural and organic to the flow of Taal, reminiscent of the flow of the seasons and the beat of the heart. Taal has the power to reconnect us to our natural, internal rhythm and thereby restoring the balance between body, mind and soul. It is a profoundly healing experience to tune into those natural rhythms, to feel the connection with the natural world and ourselves.
How can you do that? By tuning into the beat of your heart, and develop your awareness of it until it becomes second nature. You can do this by closing your eyes and focus on your body, try to feel your heartbeat - put your finger on the pulse point at your wrist or neck, and just listen to it. Relax into it, deeper and deeper and observe how the beat changes. It doesn't have to be for long; 3-5min several times a day are enough to develop your awareness. After a while, you will notice patterns, not only in the flow of your physical energy but also in your emotional state.
With practice, this gives you the leverage to thrive even in a fast-paced, technological world that makes few allowances for human nature. You will know when to pace yourself and when you can afford to burn the candle at both ends without draining all of your energy. Considering how many people are suffering from burnout and chronic fatigue, this is an essential skill.
I invite you to step off the high-speed train occasionally and explore the winding lines of your natural rhythm. Let us enjoy the ride and live life to the fullest so that when we reach our destination, we can look back on a beautiful journey.